Trained as a scientist, textile artist Teresita Leal began to nurture her creative side when she became a parent. There wasn’t a big art quilting community in Argentina at the time, but she found a group of expat quilters who welcomed her and fueled her desire to explore the medium. Inspired by texture and color, Teresita has been teaching and creating vibrant textile art in her Buenos Aires studio for over 20 years.
How did you get started making art? Why do you do it?
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I currently live and work.
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I have a degree in biochemistry as well as a doctorate in physiology; After my studies, I worked as a university professor and researcher for 15 years.
At some point I decided to stay at home with my daughters, and then my life as a textile artist began.
How have other people supported or inspired you?
A group of expat women, mostly Americans, met once a week to quilt with the passion of those who need to preserve their identity and traditions. They invited me to join them, and it was love at first sight.
After 2001, the political and economic situation in Argentina worsened. International companies reduced their staff here and most of our friends left the country. When we were left on our own, we realised that we had to advertise what we were doing. Patchwork and quilting were unknown in my country, so there was everything to do.
Together with two other local quilters, we founded Buenos Aires Quilting (BAQ) and held a few small exhibitions. Soon people were asking for workshops and classes and I opened an online forum. Surprisingly, I discovered that we were not alone. More than 500 quilters from all over Argentina, South America and other parts of the Spanish-speaking world began to network.
In 2007, I worked for a few weeks in England with a group from the Gloucestershire Guild. I discovered art quilting there, and thus began my life as a textile artist. I had the tools I had acquired over the years. Now it was a matter of nothing less than… to start creating. I believe we all have the gift, but we need the opportunity to bring it out.
I dedicated myself to this art form, and wrote articles in national (Sophia, Country Folk, Blanco) and international magazines (Magic Patch, France; The Quilter, England, Spanish Patchwork Association) to introduce us in Argentina as well as in the world of quilters.
In March, 2009, BAQ presented the first International Quilt Salon in Argentina; it was part of the Fifth International Biennial of Textile Arts. The following year, the Second Quilt Salon and the First Latin American Festival of Quilts and Patchwork were held in Buenos Aires. In the same year in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, we organised the quilt exhibition “Exposición de quilts en el Fin del Mundo (The End of the World)”. Nowadays traditional patchwork and quilting are quite well known in my country.
I learned the techniques through books and the internet. I have participated in international festivals in Houston, Chicago, Birmingham (UK), Santiago (Chile) and Gramado (Brazil).
For almost twenty years I have taught in my own studio and at festivals in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and at the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, UK.
I am a member of the CAAT (Argentine Centre of Textile Art), the SAAP (Argentine Society of Plastic Artists), ARTVILO (Visual Artists of Vicente López) and SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates). It took some time for the local textile art groups to accept art quilts, but my works are shown in museums and salons held by these organisations and abroad (Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, USA and Europe).
I am proud and excited to belong to two prestigious international textile artists groups, Viewpoints and 20 Perspectives. The invitations to join them are an honor. They are a source of inspiration and joy for me. As an art quilter I am still quite isolated in my country.
As an artist, what attracts you to textiles? How does that medium best express what you want to communicate through your art?
The materiality of the fabrics, the colors, the techniques with which I process them fascinate me. When I look at them and touch them, my inspiration is born.
The toil of textile work calls the artist to introspection, often isolation and solitude. That creates spaces of quiet and reflection, a healing ritual.
I am an artist with a practise that springs from craft. Textiles are connected to our existence, accompanying us since birth and keeping tactile desire alive throughout our lives. They refer us to basic experiences, reminding us of warmth, protection and security. The connection between textile work and viewers arises spontaneously, without the need for a direct message, but instead through sensations and feelings.
I choose colors, values, yarns and textures. Often I dye, sometimes finishing the surface of the fabrics with paint or printing. I also layer materials and perhaps use another element such as paper.
Does your background in science influence your work in any way?
I do not often repeat the same technique exhaustively. That would bore me, and I do not try to achieve perfection. I think perfection is overrated. But imperfection makes the works unique, beautiful, gloriously human. I prefer to explore my creativity by exposing myself to new challenges. Therefore, most of my productions are a different experimental process. Perhaps this comes from my scientific background.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I consider myself an eclectic artist with an abstract figurative style. This visual distillation of the figurative allows me more freedom. When you dive into the textiles, you discover so many details and textures that the work becomes abstract and complex.
Can you share a bit of your process of bringing a new idea from glimmer to reality?
My creative process begins by looking through my fabrics and becoming fascinated by their texture and color. I work with little planning, usually just a general idea of what the finished piece will look like. When I have a theme in mind, I let it be, and the vision of the piece suddenly comes to my mind. Usually it is in the most unexpected moments, maybe when I am lying awake at night or when I am exercising. I make a simple sketch so as not to forget the idea before I start working.
I currently work with a collage technique, raw edge quilt-as-you-go applique, that allows me to improvise with great freedom.
Learn more about Teresita Leal and follow her on social media:
Interview posted April 2022
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